How to Dry Flowers and Botanicals
There’s a crafty chemist in me who delights in mixing potions for beauty and the bath. When I stumbled upon this mad scientist contraption to distill essential oils at home I nearly fainted with yearning. But bunson burners and test tubes aside, there is really nothing more satisfying and constructive for DIY formulas than simply drying your own botanicals.
Many of the homemade beauty formulas we have archived here call for dried flowers and herbs. And there are a surprising number of flowers you can use with food as well. (See: 42 Flowers You Can Eat.) Most of them are increasingly easy to find, but growing or foraging for you own is both more gratifying and less costly. I have a book called Creating Fairy Garden Fragrances (Storey Publishing, 1998) by Linda Gannon that has a good primer on drying flowers and herbs. Since many of us have gardens or places to forage that are brimming with blooms, I thought it would be a good time to think about how to best preserve these materials. Here’s Gannon’s method, which covers all four seasons.
Gather flowers and herbs for drying on clear, dry days, after the dew has evaporated. Always pick the blossoms that have just reached their peak, wen their essential oils and colors are at their fullest and brightest. Here are some suggestions for what to harvest, add herbs too.
SUMMER: Black-eyes Susans, carnations, coneflowers, delphiniums, forget-me-nots, heliotrope, honeysuckle, jasmine, lavender, mint, pansies, Queen Anne’s lace, rosemary, roses, scented geraniums, and sweet peas.
AUTUMN: Berries, cones, mosses, pods, late blooms.
WINTER: Balsam, boxwood, cedar, juniper.
SPRING: Daffodils, freesia, hyacinths, lilacs, lilies-of-the-valley, narcissus, peonies, primroses, violets, and wild geraniums.
Drying the Flowers and Herbs
You can dry the flowers whole or spread the petals on screens in a warm, dry, dark room. It may be necessary to turn the flowers every so often until they are dry. In just a few days, the blossoms will be crisp to the touch and ready to store in jars, where they should be kept until you are ready to use them.
Greens and grasses can be cut and dried the same way, or you can tie them in small bunches and hang them upside down in a warm, dry, dark place, This works well if space is a problem; plant material will take just a little longer to dry.
If you are drying materials to use for aromatherapy or potpourri mixes, dried fruits provide fruit fragrance, color, and texture that is appropriate to the waning seasons of the year. Dry lemons, limes, oranges, and pomegranates whole by putting them somewhere warm and dry. It will take a couple of months for these to dry completely, so put them in a closet in August or September and forget about them until October, when your ready to mix some harvest potpourri blends. You can also slice apples, lemons, limes, or oranges and dry them in a couple of days in an electric food dehydrator. Or lay them on screens for a week or so in that same warm, dry, dark room with your flowers.
The drier the room, the quicker the flowers will dry, and the more color and fragrance your final product will retain.